The holidays & product logistics print

The holiday season is the time of year to think about the people in your life; your family and friends as well as those with whom you do business. After all, where would you be without the people who are most important to you, those who have helped to make you into the person that you are and those that have helped to make your company what it is; your customers, your suppliers and your staff.

For all of us in the graphic arts and printing business, the holidays are also a time to take note of just how expansive our industry is. You will understand what I mean if, as you go about your gift giving this year, you take a moment to notice how much the holidays are permeated by print.

Aside from all of the direct mail, advertising and promotional print products for Black Friday, etc, the holidays are a great time to recognize perhaps the unsung heroes of our industry: the packaging printers. If you leave aside for the moment all of the gift wrapping paper and the little cards that say: From Santa, it is hard to think of any gift that you will give this holiday that doesn’t contain, isn’t contained by or isn’t accompanied by some kind of printed material.

In the broadest sense, I am talking about what the Printing Industries of America (PIA) calls product logistics printing; i.e., print that supports manufactured products with logistics materials such as packaging, labels, wrappers and product user manuals.

Aside from the consumer product items typically associated with gift giving, when you consider the full dimension of product logistics print, the variety is enormous: food, personal care, health care, household items. All of these require some kind of printed carton or container, labeling or information sheet.

The concept of product logistics print is explained in the recent PIA book entitled, “Competing for Print’s Thriving Future,” by Ronnie H. Davis, Ph.D. According to 2009 data from PIA—while marketing, promotion and communications printing are dominant functional segments of our industry—product logistics print represented 20% of total print volume or about $28 billion.

As opposed to the other segments, which have all seen a steady downward divergence from the general economic activity over the past decade, product logistics “should continue to grow at rates similar to overall gross domestic product and underpin overall printing shipments.”

The reason for this seemingly contradictory good news story in an otherwise declining volume of print materials is that product logistics print is the least likely segment to compete with or face elimination by digital media alternatives. With the exception of product user manuals, which can be put online or in other digital formats, product logistics print “has a protected competitive position.”

As is widely known today, print products such as forms, books, magazines, newspapers, brochures and technical documentation are for the most part “unprotected” from digital and online alternatives.

Product logistics print processes are also unique in our industry in that all of the different printing technologies are employed: offset lithography, flexography, gravure, screen print, xerography and inkjet. Meanwhile, the types of materials being printed upon also vary greatly: coated and uncoated paper, paperboard, containerboard, metal, glass, plastic and other synthetic substrates.

Color reproduction requirements for product logistics are huge, given that brand and corporate identity is key to consumer choice. In many cases, product packaging is printed in process color, but it is also common for flexographic systems to print in up to 12 colors to achieve precise color requirements.

One especially important category of product logistics print is label manufacturing. There has been steady growth over the past five years in nearly every area of label production. According to research by Fredonia Group, label production is expected to reach $20 billion by 2015 with pressure sensitive products accounting for 70% of the category. Along with product identity labeling, barcode and smart labels are also in rapid growth mode.

So, as you review the year 2011 and think about plans for 2012, take a few moments to appreciate the work of our friends and colleagues in the packaging print business. They represent the one segment of print media that, as long as physical items are being packaged for sale—especially to the consumer—will always be around; including long after promotional and informational print has been largely displaced by digital media.

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